Digital cameras are lots of fun, but most still don't produce pictures that are as high quality as those made with film cameras, and those that do produce professional quality images often costs thousands of dollars. And while digital cameras are fine for snapshots and the needs of the casual amateur, a serious student of photography would be well-advised to start out with a film camera before transitioning to digital. Digital cameras are great because they do everything for you, from focusing to adjusting tone and color to choosing whether or not to use flash. A film camera, especially an older film camera, forces the photographer to do all those things himself. Thus a photographer who starts off with a film camera often understands the mechanics of taking picture and the process of framing a scene and creating special visual effects than does a digital photographer who can become overly reliant on the choices his camera makes for him.
There are some great film cameras out there that are available used at very low prices. One of the best film cameras for the photography student is the Canon AE-1. When it came out in the 1980s, the Canon AE-1 was revolutionary. It was the first professional quality single-lens reflex camera that was priced within the budget of a serious amateur photographer. It also allowed the user to shoot on either manual, which required the photographer to set both shutter speed and aperture, or automatic, which required the photographer to chose the shutter setting while the camera itself set the appropriate aperture. The Canon AE-1 doesn't have a built-in flash or automatic focus. It doesn't even have automatic film forwarding. Yes, you actually have to pull a lever yourself to move the film forward so that youc an take the next picture. What it does have is the ability to take great pictures in both black and white and color that are astounding in sharpness, detail, and depth. Even a photographic novice using the automatic setting will be amazed at the quality of pictures he can take with this camera.
The first thing you'll notice when you handle a Canon AE-1 is that it's somewhat heavier than more modern film and digital cameras of a comparable size. Unlike later genreations of cameras whose bodies are constructed of plastic, the Canon AE-1 is largely constructed of metal. It's a tough camera and can survive and perform admirably even after being dropped, thrown, and suffering all kinds of abuse that would irreparably damage a newer camera.
You shouldn't use the Canon AE-1 until you've read the manual and are sure you know how to load and unload film, check for battery strength, and set the aperture, shutter speed, and film speed. But once you know where everything is, the Canon AE-1 is very easy to use, and its controls are more clearly labeled and intuitive to use than those of the majority of more modern cameras. As an SLR camera, the Canon AE-1 may be mounted with a variety of lenses from close-up to telephoto, and Canon offers a wide variety of excellent lenses.
You can find used Canon AE-1 cameras in excellent condition on Ebay and elsewhere for well under $100. You can also get lenses and other accessories at very low prices. The old line of lenses manufactured for the Canon AE-1 generation of cameras can't be used on Canon's digital SLRs. Thus, as Canon photographers go digital, they have no use for their old lenses and often unload them cheap on Ebay or at used camera equipment stores.
If you're serious about learning photography and you'd like to know how to work with film as well as digitally, buy yourself a used Canon AE-1. You will rarely learn so much and get so much enjoyment for such a small financial investment.